As many of you have already noticed, there is a TREMENDOUS amount of conflicting information floating around about babies and sleep. One of the biggest misconceptions is this idea of “transitioning” or “phasing out” sleep props. For the purpose of this discussion, a sleep prop is anything your child uses to assist them to fall asleep. In order for your child to be truly sleep trained, they should be able to go down awake (not drowsy), on their back, in a totally empty crib or Pack n Play, and be able to fall asleep on their own. If they require your interaction, or a bottle, or a Doc a Tot or a swaddle, or *anything* other than themselves to fall asleep, they are not truly sleep trained. Thus, the idea of slowly getting rid of these sleep props comes into play.
Here’s the truth about transitioning – there is quite literally no such thing. Trying to “transition” off a sleep prop is like trying to break up with a super gorgeous, funny, smart, but bad-for-you boyfriend. Maybe he lies, maybe he won’t commit, maybe he has no ambition – for some reason you know the best course of action for your own long term happiness and success as a human is to cut off all contact with this guy and break the relationship off completely. It’s like you know you’re basically addicted to this person, and you have to end things for your own good. If you’ve ever been in this situation yourself, or had someone close to you experience it, you understand why the best way to deal is to simply break up and move on. Not somehow try to slowly transition out of the relationship. If you go back and forth, see him less and less, but still maintain a relationship, your addiction to this person will continually pull you back into the relationship over, and over, and over again.
This is exactly how all sleep props work. Your child is addicted and fully dependent on them to sleep – if you give them to your kid at some times but not others it will only cause them to protest more in order to get the help they need to fall asleep. You are not doing them a favor, or being more humane, or more gentle by allowing them to sometimes have their sleep prop, but not other times. You are causing them confusion and frustration, and you may also be unwittingly perpetuating a negative association with sleep since your child cannot for the life of them understand why you let them have their sleep props sometimes but not others.
The best thing to do is to outline your sleep training plan, get the okay from the doctor to cut off all sleep props, then cut every single prop off all at once on the very first night of training. Bedtime is the easiest time of day for the body to fall asleep, so by removing all their sleep props right before bedtime on the first night of training, you will be putting your child in a position where they can quickly figure out how to give in to the enticing tugs of sleep without needing the help of anyone, or anything else to fall asleep.
While the total elimination of sleep props all at once can sound harsh, challenging, or shocking, know that I have worked one-on-one with thousands of families, and cutting props at one moment consistently provides better results (aka way less crying) than any attempts at transitioning.
So remember, make the plan, get the okay from the doctor, and move forward with strict consistency where the removal of sleep props is concerned. However unbelievable it may seem, this is a recipe for success.